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The Problem of Love

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Posted by Mark Burkill, 23 May 2018

Mark Burkill comments on Bishop Michael Curry's sermon at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle

It is not often that a sermon attracts widespread attention in this country. However the sermon by Michael Curry at the Royal Wedding on Sat 19th May certainly did that. The vast majority of those who heard it will not be aware of the preacher’s position as head of the Episcopal Church in the United States. Most would have simply experienced a preacher whose background commanded respect and whose oratorical gifts had great impact. Few would have realised that he heads a declining denomination whose extreme liberalism bears much responsibility for the breaking of the Anglican Communion, a fracture which will be highlighted by the need for the forthcoming Gafcon conference in Jerusalem. Few indeed will be aware of the way this also highlighted the painful ambiguity of our own Archbishop of Canterbury in his response to unbiblical teaching.

However let us leave these background considerations aside and simply reflect on the content of what was said in this sermon. I, no doubt like many other very ordinary preachers, find it hard to communicate Christ effectively in settings like weddings and funerals. Any ordinary preacher would certainly find communicating in the setting of a royal wedding a daunting challenge. What was communicated in this sermon?

The big theme of this address was love, a topic any Anglican minister will have taken as the focus of a wedding sermon. Many true things about the Bible’s teaching on love were referred to, not least in Jesus’ own summary of the law. The Bishop also quoted Martin Luther King’s call to discover the power of love, and came back to that in his closing words when he said that we must discover the power of love. When we do that, the Bishop stated, we will make of this old world, a new world.

In essence the sermon was an inspiring call to us all to love others. However there is a big problem with such an exhortation – namely how does one put this into practice? How is this new world going to be made a reality? In Romans 1:18-3:20 the apostle Paul assesses our record as both religious and non-religious people in putting into practice what God requires of us. What God requires of us is written in the depths of our human consciences and is revealed in a blaze of light in the Bible. Our great tragedy is that we all fail to practice this love that we are called to, and Paul says we are therefore under the judgement of God (2:12). Exhortations to do what God requires of us simply make us conscious of sin (3:20) and the way in which we fall short.

That is why those who heard this sermon all needed to hear something about the significance of Jesus Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice as in this a righteousness from God is made known (see 3:21-26). In the free gift of Jesus there is hope for those who fail. Of course it is a challenge to communicate the significance of Christ in such circumstances, but without any such focus on Christ the talk becomes at best sub-Christian. Paul makes clear in Titus that we need Jesus Christ in order to be eager to do what is good (2:11-14). Without this we are surely in the realm of what Paul terms in 2Tim3:5 ‘a form of godliness’ which nevertheless denies the reality of the gospel’s power.

Mark Burkill is vicar of Christ Church, Leyton, Chair of the Reform Council and the Latimer Trust, and a member of the Church Society Council.

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